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Hammer v. State Auto Property & Casualty Insurance Company

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division

August 2, 2019




         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (DN 27). The motion is ripe for adjudication. For the reasons outlined below, the motion is DENIED.


         This is an insurance coverage dispute. On February 23, 2016, a fire caused a total loss of the home of Plaintiff Russell Hammer (“Plaintiff”). (Compl. ¶¶ 1-3, 5, 12, DN 1). At the time, State Auto Property & Casualty Insurance Co. (“Defendant”) provided property insurance coverage for Plaintiff's home. (Compl. ¶ 5; Compl. Ex. 1, DN 1-3). Plaintiff alleges he filed a claim with Defendant, but that Defendant has neither paid the claim nor offered a reason for its inaction. (Compl. ¶ 18).

         Defendant's motion seeks summary judgment on a discrete issue that requires the Court to consider not the events surrounding the fire but rather the effect of a bankruptcy filed and dismissed in 2009. At that time, Plaintiff, acting pro se, filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 13. See No. 09-10846-JAL (Bankr. W.D. Ky. 2009). In his initial petition, Plaintiff listed the value of the subject residence at $300, 000. (Def.'s Mot. Sum. J. Ex. 8, at 1, DN 27-10). Plaintiff valued his personal property at the time at $22, 500. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 8, at 4). The Bankruptcy Court ordered Plaintiff to pay the filing fee of $274 in installments. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 9, at 1, DN 27-11).

         Plaintiff subsequently converted the bankruptcy to a Chapter 11 with assistance of counsel and declared the value of his residence to be $110, 000 and the value of his personal property to be $24, 051. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 13, at 13-16, DN 27-15). The Bankruptcy Court ordered Plaintiff to attend the Section 341 meeting of creditors. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 24, at 1, DN 27-26). Following the Section 341 meeting, however, the U.S. Trustee moved to dismiss Plaintiff's bankruptcy. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 15, at 1-3, DN 27-17 [hereinafter Trustee's Mot.]). The Trustee stated Plaintiff failed to amend his bankruptcy schedules with respect to a No. of assets. (Trustee's Mot. 2). Additionally, Plaintiff allegedly failed to provide the Trustee with required financial documents despite repeated requests. (Trustee's Mot. 1-2). After a hearing, the Bankruptcy Court granted the Trustee's motion and dismissed Plaintiff's case on December 18, 2009. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 17, at 1, DN 27-19).


         This Court has diversity jurisdiction over this matter because the parties are citizens of different states, and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1).


         In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must determine whether there is any genuine issue of material fact that would preclude entry of judgment for the moving party as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of stating the basis for the motion and identifying evidence in the record that demonstrates an absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). If the moving party satisfies its burden, the non-moving party must then produce specific evidence proving the existence of a genuine dispute of fact for trial. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

         While the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the non-moving party must do more than merely show the existence of some “metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (citation omitted). Rather, the non-moving party must present specific facts proving that a genuine factual dispute exists by “citing to particular parts of the materials in the record” or by “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence . . . of a genuine dispute . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position will be insufficient” to overcome summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.


         Defendant seeks summary judgment on the grounds of judicial estoppel, arguing Plaintiff is bound by the representations he made to the Bankruptcy Court with respect to the value of his residence and personalty. (Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 6, DN 27-1 [hereinafter Def.'s Mot.]). Specifically, Defendant notes that Plaintiff represented to the Bankruptcy Court that the value of his residence was $110, 000 yet claimed a loss of $397, 281.76 for the same residence after the fire. (Def.'s Mot. 12). Likewise, Plaintiff valued his personalty at the time of his Chapter 11 filing in 2009 at $24, 051 yet represented after the fire that his personal property loss was $399, 605. (Def.'s Mot. 11). Defendant argues Plaintiff made a representation to the Bankruptcy Court, the position was adopted by the Bankruptcy Court, and Plaintiff must be bound by that representation to prevent his gaming the system. (Def.'s Mot. 15-16).

         Plaintiff responds that when he reported his assets for purposes of the 2009 bankruptcy, he listed prices consistent with garage sale or liquidation values. (Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. 11-13, DN 33 [hereinafter Pl.'s Resp.]). On the other hand, Plaintiff contends he calculated the replacement value of lost property-consistent with his insurance policy-when submitting his claim. (Pl.'s Resp. 12-13). Additionally, Plaintiff argues Defendant has failed to recognize the possibility that Plaintiff acquired additional personal property in the seven years between filing bankruptcy and the fire. (Pl.'s Resp. 13-14). With respect to the residence, ...

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